The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, April 19, 2010

Archaeological Art

One of the things that I love about the Santa Cruz area is all of the little oddball things that are to be found tucked in to the various little corners of the county. Case in point, down the road from my apartment is this overpass:

Pretty unremarkable, eh? But, as soon as you enter it and pass under the freeway, you see this:

Yeah, it's an art installation that is designed to look like an archaeological/paleontological site. It's called Finding Our Past by Susana Arias and was created in 1996 under the auspices of the County Board of Supervisors. When I first saw it, back in 1996 when I arrived in Santa Cruz, I thought it was amazing, and then was a bit annoyed, as it contained both archaeological materials (such as representations of obsidian projectile points, and bowl mortars, and historic artifacts such as metals tools)...

...and paleontological materials (whale bones buried in stone and sediment, and big-ass shark teeth). It bugged me that the art installation conflated archaeology and paleontology...

...but I'm over being annoyed by that now.

I don't know whether the artist was, like many people, unaware that archaeology and paleontology are two completely different scientific disciplines, or if she simply felt that both were appropriate for the artwork as both are disciplines that study the Earth's past, though in different ways with different focuses. But I don't care.

What I care about now is that a public piece of art is reveling in the wonder and fascination that can come from research. Very often, in both pop culture and in conversation with people involved in both the arts and the sciences, there is a tendency to put up a false wall between them or even claim that they are somehow opposed.

This is, of course, bullshit.

There are many artists who draw their inspiration, or even their materials, from science. Artists, including painters, sculptors, photographers, and even musicians, have long made use of materials and concepts from the sciences. It's nice to see an example in a public place, and I am happy to be able to live in such close proximity to it.

No comments: